Last season’s best player wants to leave and our transfer dealings are restricted within the confines of a sell-to-buy policy. Grim? Maybe, but this is the situation and we have to get on with it.
Yes, James Milner was superb at times over the last 12 months; he scored 7 league goals from midfield and contributed to our cause with 12 assists. He showed glimpses of brilliance on the world stage in June and ultimately made the loss of our 12 year stalwart (who will remain nameless) a smooth, if not improved, transition. “Irreplaceable” you might say. However, I wouldn’t.
Of course, when I first heard Martin O’Neill’s admission that our number 8’s head was turned, I was gutted. It couldn’t be that, for a second year, my favourite footballer would sell his soul for the devil’s riches. Thankfully, however, I had already grieved this hurt and I soon realised that the loss of Milly wouldn’t compare to the aftermath of Man City’s first summer signing last year. And then it hit me: James Milner was just a rebound. All along, I had been using him to sooth the scar left by our former number 6 – he had his uses, don’t get me wrong; but now that he’s going, Villa will have no problem moving on, and do you know what? We’ll be okay.
Although it will be extremely difficult to find an established, and effective, central midfielder within our miniscule £12m transfer cap, the perceived “disastrous” sale of James Milner is now actually very “necessary”. Because, as our overly generous American owner has, for once, decided to tighten his purse strings, Villa would have been in big trouble this coming year – but for the gluttonous naivety of Manchester City. The uncontrollable spending which is destroying football as we know it over at Eastlands is, without doubt, making progression harder; but by exploiting the Citizens’ reckless attitude, the claret side of Birmingham is offered a lifeline which could continue to kickstart our climb to the top – at a time when Aston Villa should be stalled on a hill without the assurance of a handbrake.
For me, City can become that ally you have when playing Monopoly whose fortunes will never be surpassed, and who has no problem paying over the odds for your hot property. They will never be caught, but they can help carry you to the top with them.
As the club prepares to enter the transfer market with an empty bank account, it is an ironic saving grace that Man Shitty have declared an interest in our most valuable player. I’ve argued that we have to keep the likes of Milner at Trinity Road if we are to remain an attractive habitat; but should the Villains desperately hang on to the want-away England star for another season, the potential kitty from the sale of our fringe players will not be sufficient to even change, never mind improve, on last year. And let’s be honest: as much as we stepped on last year (in the cup runs and increased points tally), we were caught out.
Opposition sides were all too prepared for the approach of a Martin O’Neill team in its fourth season, and a lot of the times we were thwarted. Teams were willing to treat our deep-lying outfit with caution and often refused to over-commit – and thus, suffocating the potential of our counterattacking prowess in which Downing, Young, Gabby, Carew and, of course, Milner were pivotal. Failing to win 11 of our 19 games at Villa Park last year was testament to our inability to break teams down; and indeed to our vulnerability at coping with sides who were as equally prepared to hit teams on the break. On top of this, a meek total of 52 league goals banged in last term (the 8th most in the league), shows just how far we really are from Champions League football. Defensively we were water tight; but our inability to put weaker opponents to the sword ultimately created the failure to acquire that elusive 6 more points.
In conclusion, we have become much too predictable as an attacking force and the variation of talent which could be welcomed aboard for the same valuation as an overpriced James Milner is essential.
So, he didn’t have the best of seasons. But the 23 year old suffered the most from Manchester City’s ridiculous spending. Making room for more “household names”, the Sky Blues unfairly asked Stephen Ireland to ply his trade from wide areas (and I’m talking out-and-out winger positions), and of course from a deeper midfield role under the new defence-minded Italian regime.
But if we rewind to the 08/09 season, the Irish man was Mark Hughes’ main threat, cutting teams open with his creative instincts and death touch when allowed to roam through the centre and off the front man. It’s a cliché, I know, but his 9 goals and 9 assists that year were so efficiently devastating that it was, at times, reminiscent of a hot knife cutting through melting butter – at the tender age of 22.
And as a supporter of his native country: yes, I’ll admit, he has caused his fair share of trouble; but when Stephen lines out in a green shirt, the Republic then have at least one dimension to their boring, unimaginative play – I mean, boy is he crucial. Scoring 4, largely individual, goals in just 6 appearances playing in an already below-par team furthered hindered by the misguidance of Steve Staunton, Ireland banished any perception that he couldn’t play in a 4-4-2 formation. Starring in the centre for his country, Stephen didn’t shirk his defensive or tactical duties, and his 4 goals from this position were all four match-winners as an uninspired outfit took 12 Qualifying points, each through the minimum winning margin.
No other club on the planet would deem such a gem surplus to requirements – particularly if he was nurtured through their underage system. Fortunately for Villa, however, “Citeh” are a brainless club. Having already pawned off Daniel Sturridge, Mancini is doing his best to have Onouha and Richards frozen out; and valuing a raw James Milner almost £20m more than the effortless Stephen Ireland, any work completed within the Man City academy (as good as it has been) is deemed a pointless waste of time in the shambolic rigmarole that is the MCFC boardroom.
Not only would I actually prefer a Stephen Ireland to a James Milner, but to have that swap with an extra £20m thrown into the bargain would be daylight robbery – and exactly the sort of steal we need in today’s sell-to-buy climate. City are surely buying their way to the title; but last summer, we acquired PFA Team of the Year member Richard Dunne for £18m less than the clumsy Joleon Lescott; and this summer we could be obtaining the improved services of Stephen Ireland for £20m less than workhorse James Milner – therefore, as a Villa fan I say, “Long live the Sheikh”.
If the part exchange deal did take place involving either Ireland or Bellamy, we would be left with a more talented alternative – perfect for the necessary change the AVFC attack needs for the coming season. Moreover, the extra cash obtained will be used effectively to add extra dimensions to a thin squad.
I’m not saying that they are targets or that they are even interested, but the rumoured links with Aiden McGeady and Robbie Keane are heart-warming. Whilst I don’t think that McGeady is better than Young or Downing, I’ve witnessed his 2nd half introductions for the Republic of Ireland on numerous occasions and I’m convinced that his ability to lift the crowd and spark a game into life can be just the tonic our poor home win ratio needs.
Robbie Keane (or a similar player), in my opinion, will be a steal at £10m. Yes, he’s ageing, but he is good. Overflowing with flair, the Irish captain is the perfect man to get in between the customary positional lines of football and bring other players into the game. Feeding off target men for his entire international career, Keane is also one of the best forwards in the world at anticipating flick-ons and getting in behind the opposition defence.
The possibility of Aston Villa acquiring Ireland’s 3 most exciting players at the expense of the ever-willing, but limited talent of, James Milner is too good a chance to miss. Jimmy was great for two years, but was there ever a sense of emotional attachment with the wanderlust professional? He did his job, he did it well, but Milner was never Aston Villa.
Now, by replacing him, we can bring in critical firepower which will deal with the onset predictability of the club – without spending a single penny. And after overseeing 71 league goals (the 3rd most) in just his second year in charge, with a less able outfit, Martin O’Neill has the capability to get the Villains firing again – he just needs different ammunition to wear down the bullet proof vests some teams have adapted to wear against us.
Therefore, strangely, I’m hoping to see the back of James Milner sooner rather than later. Clearly, he didn’t appreciate the punt MON took on him as he looked for the exit doors at St. James’ Park. He doesn’t acknowledge the work undergone to turn him into an international standard player (quite similar to another particular Man City footballer). And he is so inpatient at the age of 24 that he couldn’t wait one more season to see if the Villa project comes together.
Not only don’t I want that type of personnel infecting the changing rooms at Bodymoor Heath, but I think that we can do a lot better than James Milner. So I say, “Thanks for the memories, James – but good riddance” because we don’t need you. What we do need is to cash his price tag and get to work bringing in the different types of ability which our team so badly needs. James Milner was crucial to an outfit who were capable of scoring just 52 league goals. Now, Aston Villa needs 3 or 4 variable elements who are crucial to an outfit who can once again score 70+ goals. But this time, we will be supported by a mean defence. And this time, we could go that one step further – without the services of one, James Milner.